In preparation for The Next Day, David Bowie’s first album of newly-recorded material in ten years, I’ll be taking a retrospective look at each of the singer’s official studio albums ranging from 1967 to the latest 2013 release
Black Tie White Noise
It’s been six years since David Bowie’s last album. Since then he’s been focusing his attention away from his solo career and more on the hard-rocking Tin Machine. Does Bowie still have a place in the musical climate of the 90s, of is he simply a relic of the past?
With 1993’s Black Tie White Noise, the singer proves that he can indeed still produce an endearing album of pop music. Joining again with Let’s Dance producer Nile Rodgers, this album both brings back memories of Bowie’s past material and points to other musical directions yet to be explored.
It would be difficult to discuss this record without mentioning Bowie’s recent marriage at the time this piece of work hit the market. Effectively, much of the material here clearly sounds as though it is written with the whimsical spirit of a newly-wed at the helm.
“The Wedding” and “The Wedding Song,” each bookending the album at the beginning and finale respectively, set the romantic tone with the chiming of wedding bells and a lush musical landscape. And this tone is upheld through much of the record’s running time with the sensual poppy-ness of “Miracle Goodnight,” the tender “Don’t Let Me Down and Down,” and one of the Bowie’s most effective cover versions on record in a Young Americans –esque take on Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday.”
However, that isn’t to say the album has nothing to offer but sentimental material. “Jump They Say,” a song dealing with the death of Bowie’s half-brother in the mid-80s, is quite likely the album’s most driving and certainly its closest thing to a rock song. Also of note is the title track “Black Tie White Noise,” a song about race riots in Los Angeles that Bowie witnessed in 1992 featuring a guest appearance of singer Al B. Sure! which pays of remarkably well.
Though the record is a strong return for the solo artist, there are a few faults to recognize on the album. Aside from being a very produced effort similar to some of his work in the 80s, the main issue to be had with the songs here is that some entries are just not very memorable. Bowie’s cover of Scott Walker’s “Nite Flights” for example, is done well, but perhaps doesn’t hold as much punch as some of its counterparts. This becomes a recurring trend with most of Black Tie White Noise’s instrumental tracks. To be fair “Looking for Lester” is an enjoyable track keeping with the jazz feel of the record, and “Pallas Athena” offers enough danceable weirdness to be unique, but each one is a bit too long and pandering to be very impactful.
Black Tie White Noise may not be for everyone. It’s certainly not Bowie’s best album, but by that same token, it’s a refreshing progression after the disappointment of his 80s material. And, in effect, it’s a significant landmark that begins a new era of creative exploration for the artist.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Highlights: “Black Tie White Noise,” “Jump They Say,” “Miracle Goodnight,” “Don’t Let Me Down and Down,” “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday”
A Very Bowie Moment: “They say hey that’s really something, They feel he should get some time, I say he should watch his ass” – “Jump They Say”
Best Edition: The 2003 re-release of the album includes a bonus CD of remixes and the non-album tracks “Lucy Can’t Dance” and “Real Cool World.” Also included is a DVD of an interview with Bowie spliced with performances – okay lip-synched performances, but still performances – of the songs.
The Buddha of Suburbia
After the return to his solo work with Black Tie White Noise, David Bowie would go on to produce a number of works that once again took an experimental, subversive approach rather than a commercially-viable one. One release that is often forgotten, however, is the 1993 soundtrack album, The Buddha of Suburbia.
Perhaps it’s because this album was considered to merely be a soundtrack to a BBC miniseries (ironically though, the only song used in the actual series was the title track), but this record was widely passed over upon its initial release and soon pulled from shelves, supposedly because it hadn’t sold well. This is interesting to note because even though people weren’t buying Buddha, Bowie once claimed it to be his favorite collection of his music.
So is this a misunderstood masterpiece, or was the public right to ignore this soundtrack? If you’re one of the people who have yet to hear the material on The Buddha of Suburbia, you might be surprised to hear what this record has to offer.
If anything, this is a record that harkens back to some of the ambient songs of the “Berlin Trilogy.” The instrumentals on Bowie’s previous albums may have hinted at Bowie’s interest to return to this kind of format, but it is taken to a new level here. Songs like “South Horizon” and “The Mysteries” especially send one’s mind back to some of the songs on the second side of “Heroes.”
Also, similar to Low and “Heroes,” there is plenty of pop material to be appreciated along with the instrumental tracks. And refreshingly, there is a marked return to a more down-to-Earth, organic rock sound. The title track is probably the album’s shining moment, with great lyrics evoking alienation and angst, not to mention some clever nods to earlier songs like “All the Madmen” and “Space Oddity.” “Living in lies by the railway lines, pushing the hair from my eyes, Elvis is English and climbs the hills, can’t tell the bullshit from the lies,” Bowie sings.
Also of note is the romantic ballad, “Strangers When We Meet,” as well as the layered poppy weirdness of “Bleed Like a Craze, Dad” and, to a greater extent, “Dead Against It.”
Not every song on the tracklist here is fantastic, and it may not equal some of his previous masterworks, but as it stands, it’s easy to see why Bowie would be so fond of this album.
After the singer’s slash with over-production and excess in the 80s up to, and arguably including, the release of Black Tie White Noise, The Buddha of Suburbia makes a refreshing return not just to experimentation, but also to simple, earnest rock music.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Highlights: “Buddha of Suburbia,” “The Mysteries,” “Bleed Like a Craze, Dad,” “Strangers When We Meet,” “Dead Against It”
A Very Bowie Moment: “Sometimes I feel that the whole world is queer” – “Buddha of Suburbia”
Best Edition: The 2007 re-release is probably the only one you’re likely to find with any ease.